Homeless Youth: Living With Loss and Finding Community on Stoner Hill

DJ’s favorite myth is the story of Achilles. The best-known version says that Achilles gained invulnerability over his entire body, except for his heel, when his mother dipped him in the River Styx. But DJ learned a different version from his mother.

In his family’s telling, Achilles chose his own weakness in exchange for his new strength. DJ says his weakness would be an acceptance of the fear of loss.

“I don’t know. It’s just I’ve lost so much,” he says one day at Stoner Hill, the patch of Commons Park that is the focus of the current Westword cover story. “Any situation where someone can be injured that’s important in my life, I expect it to be a thing. It’s like I need to work away from that.”

The 21-year-old’s parents raised him to be free. But even as they toured the country following the Grateful Dead, they gave him a good education, he says: He’s a natural at calculus, and he loves Greek mythology. But his mother and father were heavy substance users, and it likely cut their lives short.

His mother died in 2009 and his father in 2012, leaving him a ward of the State of Indiana. The system set him up with an apartment. DJ finished high school and made most of his way toward a college degree in counseling.

One day, though, the loss caught up with him.

“I just didn’t care anymore. I lost my parents, and I was just like, fuck it. You know, like, turn up.... Fuck that. ‘I just want to have fun. Who cares?’ And it just turned bad,” he says.

“I was fooling around on the streets doing fuckboi shit for a long time. Pardon my French — I just really didn’t care. ‘Don’t make me do anything. I’ve just been stripped of everything, why do I want to do it? If you want to say something, I’ll knock you out.’ That’s how I felt, you know?”

But his daughter’s birth this year changed that. The mother is a young woman who lives in the Southwest. They’re not really together anymore, but they both want to be in their daughter’s life.

“I had a lot of anger and tension built up. Seeing my daughter kind of stripped all those layers off,” DJ says. “I almost felt it; it was weird. I was like a thousand pounds of weight off my body. It was amazing.”

His daughter’s grandmother doesn’t trust him; she thinks he’s just a street kid, he says. So he’s working now to change that.

The first step will be to go to jail; an officer was scheduled to pick up DJ after Thanksgiving. He’ll be there through Christmas, serving out a sentence for breaking an elevator window in a fit of frustration several months ago. When he gets out, he hopes to start a job in construction and leave the last few years behind.

“To be honest, I was way happier when I was on the streets eating acid every night than I am now,” DJ says. “But that’s not possible anymore. It’s a completely different situation now.”

Read our story on Stoner Hill here.
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